Peace by Piece

As you might know I worked on the Community Rejuvenation Project this summer as a documentarian and handling web content for their blog, anyways they have been getting some positive feedback in the media here is an article by Zoneil Maharaj about the project…

Mike M

from wire tape magazine:

A group of 30 youth huddle around an Oakland street corner. They’re armed with spray cans, with dozens of boxes stacked on the sidewalk and spilling out of a shopping cart. From top to bottom, end to end, they cover an empty wall on the corner of 83rd and MacArthur Avenues, giving life to a once blighted building. The residents who gather around them couldn’t be more proud. The mural depicts three young women — innocent bystanders who fell victim to gang crossfire.

“Wow,” says Aileen Robinson, 53, as she stares with teary eyes at the portrait of Kennah Wilson, her 18-year-old granddaughter-in-law who was seven months pregnant when she was gunned down last August. She was telling a group of friends and neighbors about her upcoming baby shower. “You can’t help but to remember — remember good, happy times,” Robinson says.

Also depicted in the mural are Shaneice Davis, 21, who was killed by stray gunfire as she slept in her apartment last April, and Tommiesha Lynn Jones, 16, who was shot and killed in 2005 while riding in a car in Richmond. All three young women memorialized by the Community Rejuvenation Project were residents who lived in the apartments across from where the mural now stands.

“The people that were chosen were at the wrong place at the wrong time, innocent victims who didn’t get the chance to maximize their potential. That’s what this is about in a lot of ways — for the community to really see their people honored,” says Desi W.O.M.E., who leads the Community Rejuvenation Project, a summer youth program of the Lao Family Community Development center.

Desi, who adopted his graffiti crew’s name — Weapons of Mass Expression, or Warriors of Mother Earth — as his last name, works a spray can with Picasso-like precision. The 31-year-old’s youthful energy is belied only by his neatly shaped goatee and lamb chop sideburns; otherwise, the stocky art instructor would blend in perfectly with his students. Under his leadership, the Community Rejuvenation Project employs and teaches job skills to 30 youth from ages 14 to 24. The project involves community clean-up, landscaping, surveying community members and painting murals, with a block party to unveil and celebrate the completed project. Over the course of five weeks, the youth will produce four murals throughout Oakland.

“What we’re doing is trying to build up the culture of murals in Oakland and the Bay Area in general, try[ing] to build up another generation of people that will solidly hold it down for us,” says Desi. He explains that Oakland has many cultural writers and muralists but the city’s barren public walls don’t reflect their presence. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s on the periphery — on the rooftops and at the tracks. I want to put us back at the forefront,” he says.

In order to make cultural art more visible, Desi is empowering youth with an arsenal of color.

Weapons of Expression

Desi’s apartment might as well be a paint supply store.

“It’s two bedrooms, but you see what I’m married to, right?” he says.

While others have shelves stacked with books, his are stacked with colorful spray cans, ranging from Himalaya Blue to Supernova Pink and every oddly-named hue in between. “We’re short right now, we probably only have 300 cans,” he says.

Desi is pro-graffiti and has been a purveyor of the art form for nearly 20 years, both legally and illegally. He heads the Arrow-Soul Council, an after-school program at Unity High School in Oakland, and was a lead art activist in the wake of the Oscar Grant shooting. He has led similar youth mural projects all over the country, from New York and Santa Fe to Wounded Knee, South Dakota. While the murals are rooted in graffiti art, it’s much more than tags.

“We’re definitely down to buck the system on all levels but, at the same time, we’re not at war with our communities. We’re not here to battle our neighbors,” Desi says. “Instead of taking it in this route where it’s all about me and my name, we’re showing the kids that, yo, you can take it in this route where it’s all about your community, it’s all about your people, it’s all about your ancestors, it’s all about those that are still coming and repping that.”

read more of the article here

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